By Sebastian Herrera 

WhatsApp is delaying a controversial update to its privacy policy after backlash from some users over how it would share data with Facebook Inc., which owns the popular messaging service.

The company, which has about two billion users, said they would have until May 15 to review and accept the new policy, which is when the data changes are set to go into effect. If users don't do so by then, the app will eventually stop working for them, a spokesman said. Previously, the deadline for accepting the changes was Feb. 8, but WhatsApp said it would "go to people gradually to review the policy at their own pace."

"We've heard from so many people how much confusion there is around our recent update," a WhatsApp spokesman said. "There's been a lot of misinformation causing concern and we want to help everyone understand our principles and the facts."

WhatsApp said the new policy isn't set to expand its ability to share data with Facebook and was instead oriented around allowing businesses that interact with customers on WhatsApp to store those conversations on Facebook servers. The changes were a key step in Facebook's plan to generate revenue with the app after many years of struggling to do so. Businesses will also be able to store user shopping activity on the servers.

WhatsApp messages will continue to be protected with end-to-end encryption and neither WhatsApp nor Facebook can see the private messages, keep logs of who users are calling or messaging, see a shared location or share user contacts with Facebook, the company said.

Some data between the two companies has already been shared for some time. Facebook is able to see which phone numbers are being used in WhatsApp, how often the app is opened by users and their mobile carrier.

Certain users expressed confusion and skepticism last week on social media about the new policy and questioned whether the changes would allow Facebook to access messages or other information they previously believed was private.

While WhatsApp sought to clarify the policy this week, explaining that its core promise of private, end-to-end encrypted messaging would remain unchanged, many users began to look elsewhere.

Global WhatsApp downloads decreased by about 17% in the week after its new policy announcement compared with the week before across Apple and Google's app stores, according to app analytics firm Sensor Tower Inc. Meanwhile, downloads of rival messaging app Signal during the same period rose about 6000% and downloads of Telegram, another service, more than doubled, according to Sensor Tower.

Write to Sebastian Herrera at Sebastian.Herrera@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 15, 2021 14:44 ET (19:44 GMT)

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